What to do for fun when the winter days drag on? It’s February and although the promise of spring (and warmer weather) is just around the corner, the thermometer in most parts of the country still hovers in cold territory. That isn’t a good situation when you’ve had a child cooped up indoors for a long period of time and you’ve both watched as many DVDs as you can possibly tolerate in a weekend. For a change of pace, why not try a project that brings a little sign of spring and summer indoors for you and your child? You can break the winter monotony easily with a terrarium project that enables your child to create his or her own little growing world that takes very little care.
A terrarium is simply a clear glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting top. When filled with a growing medium, some small plants, and a little moisture, the terrarium becomes a green oasis that can brighten any home or room. The University of Missouri Extension Office provides the following guidance for creating a terrarium:
You will need:
Note: If a younger child will be involved in this project, you should choose a clear plastic container to avoid any possibility of injury while working with glass.
Assemble the project materials on a flat work surface covered with newspaper or a plastic drop cloth to ease cleanup. Let your child plan out the design of the terrarium. Keep in mind that when it is displayed, it will be seen from one side so you can be creative with the slope of the soil surface. Prepare the container by washing it in hot, soapy water and rinsing it thoroughly. Make sure the container is dry before you start planting.
Begin by putting a layer of gravel or aquarium pebbles in the bottom of the terrarium container. This layer will act as drainage material allowing any excess water to drain away from the plant roots to keep them from rotting. On top of the gravel place a ½ inch layer of activated aquarium charcoal. Then, place a layer of sphagnum moss over the charcoal (this will keep the soil above from working its way down into the drainage gravel). Don’t worry if this takes up a lot of your container. The University of Missouri Extension Office suggests that one quarter of the terrarium’s volume should be used for drainage and soil.
When placing the drainage material and soil, you can be creative with the landscape. Try building the back higher with a slope to the front area of the terrarium. Once the drainage layer is in place, the soil layer can be added. Feel the potting soil—it should be slightly moist. If it is dry, place a quantity of potting soil into a plastic container, mist it with water, and mix until it is damp. Add approximately 1-1/2 inches of potting soil to the container over the layer of moss.
Once the soil is in place, your child can begin planting. The University of Florida Extension Office recommends choosing the smallest plants possible and choosing plants with similar light and water requirements. Trim any yellow leaves from the plants and avoid planting any diseased plants (the moist environment will only spread the disease to other healthy plants). Remove the plants from their plastic pots and gently loosen the roots. Form a small hole for each plant in the potting soil, insert the plant, and gently tamp the soil in place around the base of the plant. If the container has a small opening, you may want to use tongs to position the plants and a stick or small dowel rod with a cork on the end to tamp the soil around the plants.
After planting, your child can decorate the surface of the terrarium around the plants. He or she can add moss, sand, or gravel to the top of the potting soil and then add other decorative accessories like rocks, sticks, and ceramic wildlife to complete the “woodland” look.
When the terrarium is complete, mist the plants gently with water to wash off any potting soil that has adhered to the leaves. If the potting soil was sufficiently damp when planting, there is no need to water the terrarium at this time. Allow the plant leaves to dry thoroughly before placing the lid on the terrarium to decrease the likelihood of promoting rot or disease on the plants. Once the leaves are dry, add the terrarium cover or a piece of clear plastic “cling wrap”.
Place the terrarium in a location where it will receive indirect sunlight. Due to its closed nature, the terrarium should never be place in direct sunlight. Doing so will cause the interior temperature to rise and burn the plants. Turn the terrarium occasionally to encourage the plants to grow evenly. A closed terrarium will not need water for 4-6 months. Water lightly when fogging on the sides of the container stops or when the plants begin to wilt. The University of Missouri Extension Office notes that it is better for the terrarium to be a little too dry than too wet.
In no time at all, your child can create a growing world that is his or her own. With a little light, very little water, and minimal care, your terrarium can continue to bring a touch of pring to your home for years to come!
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